Carol Smyth IBCLC

Carol is an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) in private practice as well as a La Leche League Leader.

Carol's goal is to support breastfeeding in a holistic way. She has a special interest in Reflux, Colic & Tongue Tie in relation to breastfeeding and also in Fertility issues while breastfeeding, but overall Carol's interest is in helping all women and babies to enjoy an easy, loving and beautiful breastfeeding for how ever long works for them.

Carol Smyth IBCLC

This is the first of a series of blog posts getting to know the some of the many incredible women in N.I. who are here to serve parents and parents-to-be.

*First side note before we begin! My goal is to be inclusive and for all parents to be part of the conversation. Carol is on the same page and we want to say from the start that we believe in gender inclusivity and for women with children who need extra support from equipment to share their breastmilk to feel included. Anywhere that the word breastfeeding is used in this interview it refers to both breastfeeding and chest feeding.

As it's World Breastfeeding Week, there's no better woman to be the first featured than Carol Smyth. Given the current times, I had the pleasure of virtually meeting Carol over Zoom and our conversation was just fascinating! I could have spent all day talking about breastfeeding and all things motherhood with her!

"My passion for breastfeeding began when my first son was born. I have been lucky to mother both my boys through breastfeeding and they have shaped my attitude and approach to supporting other mothers.
I believe that breastfeeding is more than a way to feed your baby. It helps us to parent, it can give a woman confidence in her body, it can help to heal from a difficult journey to parenthood, fertility or birthing trauma. It helps to grow and nurture our babies in a way that nothing else can. I believe that every mother and baby deserve to breastfeed and to be breastfed. I also know that every mother's experiences are different and goals around may be different. I wish to empower mothers to reach their goals in breastfeeding - no one else's.

I have BSc Hons in Psychology, and a MSc in Computer Science and worked in the corporate world of IT Service Management before entering breastfeeding support. As strange a combination as these might sound I feel they give me a unique approach. Psychology helps me to counsel and approach difficult issues with breastfeeding families, and my IT background gives me a strong experience of problem solving.

My goal is to support breastfeeding in a holistic way. I have a special interest in Reflux, Colic & Tongue Tie in relation to breastfeeding and also in Fertility issues while breastfeeding, but overall my interest is in helping all women and babies to enjoy an easy, loving and beautfiul breastfeeding for how ever long works for them."

I hope you enjoy reading this interview with Carol and perhaps connect some women in need of her wisdom. Keep scrolling and Carol's contact details and links are at the bottom.

What was your path to becoming a lactation consultant?

It really began with the birth of my own children. When I had my first baby I had the common early day breastfeeding problems, but I got fantastic support from La Leche League which really allowed me to relax into the early months of breastfeeding and parenting. I just fell in love with breastfeeding. It became so easy, and I could see that my baby was so content when at the breast and the lovely hormones of breastfeeding left me so blissed out at times that I really wanted to help others experience this too. So I initially trained as a voluntary breastfeeding counsellor with La Leche League. I’d got such great support from them and wanted to help others in the same way. I still volunteer with them actually.

After a couple of years of working with LLL I felt that I really wanted to do this as a career, so I started training as a IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) and gained that qualification in 2015.

Why should someone hire a lactation consultant?

So many reasons!

We are here to work with you and help you to achieve what you want to achieve in regards to feeding your baby. That may be giving you time to talk through concerns, it may be working through problems of pain, or weight gain or unsettled behaviour or problems around sleep. It may be helping you to process the grief of breastfeeding not having started or gone the way that you wanted. It may be to help you to wean or start solids or to alter your breastfeeding pattern to help you conceive again. It may be that someone has stopped breastfeeding early on and regrets it and wants to start again. It may be that they want a plan to combination feed or it may be just a chat to help to reassure you that everything is going well. We can give you dedicated time, and a compassionate ear combined with highly skilled support around feeding your baby.

What is the main reason that your clients give for hiring you?

The main reason is that they have hit an obstacle with feeding / sleep / unsettled behaviour and need some support to help them get past it. Most people hit some obstacles in the early days and weeks of breastfeeding. Some are smaller obstacles and others are much bigger and harder to resolve just from finding your own information on the internet or from books. This is compounded by the fact that we live in a society which is still very much dominated by formula feeding, so often when people hit obstacles with breastfeeding, the advice they hear is that they should just stop. 

Research in the UK tells us that 90% of people give up breastfeeding before they wanted to, so clearly they hit some kind of obstacle that they feel they cannot move past. When people hire me it’s usually because they are at this stage -they’ve hit a hurdle which they feel they need extra support to get past, and because they desperately want to continue and not to feel they are being forced to stop.

How have you adapted to serving your clients during the current coronavirus restrictions?

I think the restrictions have forced everyone to work a little differently, and like lots of other professions IBCLCs have generally moved online. I was apprehensive at the beginning and unsure of whether it was really possible to do a good assessment via a camera and whether we could really help with things like positioning and attachment via video, but I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by just how well it works. If we see someone in person at the minute, we need to wear PPE if we are within 2m. This job isn’t just about the technical skills of breastfeeding support, but is also very much a counselling role, and to me, establishing trust and rapport is the number 1 priority when I meet a family. I think it’s much more difficult to do that when half of your face is hidden behind a mask. Babies also orient to face shapes – even small babies who can’t see brilliantly orient to face shapes – eyes and mouth. I think that connecting with a baby is affected by the PPE as well, so it can actually work better to be able to see full faces via video than only seeing part of the face in person. That said, if after a video consult I feel it’s necessary I’ll arrange a meeting in person.

What part of your job do you most enjoy? 

Honestly it’s the simple pleasure of knowing that I’ve been able to help another person breastfeed their baby. Or help another person to connect better emotionally and psychologically to their baby. I know what joy those connections gave me personally and it gives me almost as much joy to see someone else experience the same thing. To play a small part in their experience is a privilege. 

What are the top three pieces of advice you would give an expectant breastfeeding parent* to help them to prepare?

1. Find your local support networks. If you have some local breastfeeding groups – go along now. Seeing other people with their babies is really helpful. Watching them hold and attach their babies. Watching normal baby behaviour. How they interact. We learn a lot by watching. This is going to be harder at the minute because of Covid, but a lot of groups are still meeting online. It’s not quite the same, but even just putting some faces to names locally helps you to reach out if you need support later. There are great support groups online too and I’d really recommend the Breastfeeding in Northern Ireland Facebook Group.


2. Find out a little about the basics of breastfeeding and what babies need in the 4th trimester (the first 3 months after birth). There are some great books out there like, “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding,” by La Leche League International, or I have an online breastfeeding preparation program on my website which is designed to be preparation before birth and also an online toolkit to dip into after birth.

3. Know that it’s ok for it to take some time to come together. Sometimes birth doesn’t go as planned and your start to breastfeeding doesn’t go as planned. That doesn’t mean it’s never going to work. Breastfeeding is a really robust process. I think nature has designed it that way because the start isn’t easy for everyone, and there needs to be a bit of flexibility. So don’t worry if things go wrong in the first couple of weeks. Reach out for some help. There are lots of people like me out there who can help and who want to help and with the right support you can get there.

What are the top three pieces of advice you would give a parent who is struggling to breastfeeding their little one?

  • Don’t feel like you are failing because you are finding it hard. Many of us go into breastfeeding thinking that because it is natural it must be easy – but natural doesn’t mean easy. Birth is natural, but no one pretends it is easy. It can be empowering and amazing when goes exactly as it should, but not easy. Breastfeeding is the same. It becomes easy, and empowering and wonderful, but it is a skill, and skills need to be learned and practised. It can take a few weeks at the start to feel like you are getting it – and that’s ok.

  • Nothing is completely irreversible where it comes to breastfeeding, and it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Sometimes articles on breastfeeding are very black and white – don’t use dummies or bottles before 6 weeks for example and it can make people feel that if they do that, it’s the end of breastfeeding. Nothing could be further from the truth. Some people wean completely and then restart breastfeeding. This is a robust process. So if you are worried that you have ruined your chances of breastfeeding – don’t. Just have a chat to someone skilled in breastfeeding support so that they can help you get back to a place that feels better for you.

  • Find good skilled breastfeeding support near you. There are 3 main groups of breastfeeding support in this area of the world: NHS support, voluntary support and private sector support. I work in both voluntary support and within the private sector. Different roles will have different skill sets depending on their qualifications, but apart from the technical skill set, a good breastfeeding supporter will make you feel heard and will listen without judgement and will provide you with skilled and compassionate care that is focused on what you want.

A final note on support - If you are struggling and someone tells you that everything looks fine, ask someone else. It simply means that they don’t have the skills to help you. 

What books would you recommend to expectant parents to prepare for breastfeeding?

My number 1 recommendation would be “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” from La Leche League International.

Thank-you, Carol for your time and the amazing work you do!

Click this link to visit Carol's website:

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